The Sindh High Court (SHC) on Wednesday directed the federal government and the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) to ensure uninterrupted internet access till February 8, when general elections are scheduled to take place in the country.
The order was issued by a two-member bench, headed by SHC Chief Justice Aqeel Ahmed Abbasi, on a petition filed by lawyer and independent candidate Jibran Nasir against the “unconstitutional” internet outages across the country in recent days.
In the past month, three such nationwide disruptions have occurred — on Dec 17, Jan 7 and Jan 20. They coincided with PTI’s virtual events on social media platforms. The party recently approached the Supreme Court and urged it to take notice of the suspension of internet services and blockage of social media websites.
During a press conference earlier this week, caretaker Information Minister Murtaza Solangi had attributed the outages to “technical” issues and system installations. He also said that there was “no guarantee” such incidents won’t occur in the future.
In his petition, a copy of which is available with media.com, Nasir named the PTA, the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunications as respondents.
He contended that the act of shutting down mobile internet and broadband services should be declared as “unconstitutional, illegal, disproportionate, unreasonable and without lawful authority”.
The plea also sought the immediate restoration of access to social media platforms and the suspension of any directives restricting access to social media till the general elections.
Nasir’s petition was taken up today and an in-chamber hearing was held.
In an order issued later, which has been seen by media.com, the SHC issued pre-admission notices to the respondents and the deputy advocate general for Jan 29, when replies would be submitted.
“In the meanwhile, respondents are directed to ensure that unless the provision of Section 8 and Section 54 of the Pakistan Telecommunication (Re-Organisation) Act, 1996, read with Rule 5 of Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguards) Rules 2021, are attracted, there shall be no disruption and shutting down of mobile internet and broadband services,” it stated.
The order also issued directives for “smooth and uninterrupted mobile internet and broadband services to have access to social media platforms/websites”.
In a post on social media platform X, Nasir confirmed that the court directed the PTA and government to ensure smooth and uninterrupted access to the internet till Feb 8.
He said a cycle was noted in the country for the past 35 days where internet services were shut down and social media access was interrupted whenever the PTI held an online event.
“This is not just stopping the PTI from contesting free and fair elections — which is pre-poll rigging — but is also hindering the way of independent candidates like me,” he stated, highlighting that the internet and social media were efficient and cost-effective platforms to reach out to voters.
Nasir said the entire nation had to suffer and losses were incurred in billions of rupees due to internet outages. “This is a violation of our fundamental human rights,” he added.
The lawyer further stated that his petition was aimed at preventing any pre-poll rigging the election day, which could be reported on social media.